Sun Prairie Families Introduce the $5 Family Challenge to benefit Sunshine Place
Sun Prairie, WI – Sun Prairie area families are working together on a new community challenge to benefit Sunshine Place and its program partners, along with an important expansion to give Sunshine Supper a permanent home.
$5 Family Challenge!
Chad and Alison Kavanaugh and their children, Drew, Brooke & Carter volunteered to make the first family challenge donation to Sunshine Place. “We learned during the recent Bed Fundraiser that working together as a community makes a big difference in the lives or our neighbors,” said Chad who collected donations for four beds during the fundraiser.
The Kavanaugh’s presented a check for $25 to Sunshine Place to represent their commitment of $5 per family member in the challenge. Families are asked to consider a $5 donation for their family and if they are able, $5 per family member.
Turn your $5 into $10
“In addition to be motivated to donate to help families in need,” Alison said, “we wanted to donate now, when we understand every dollar donated by us will be matched dollar-per-dollar by an anonymous donor – so today, our $25 donation just became a $50 donation!”
The donations will support several new community service organizations making their home in Sunshine Place #2, at 1632 W. Main St., next to the original Sunshine Place on Rickel Road. “The new building will house Sunshine Supper with space to serve more than 200 people at once,” said Julie Wiedmeyer, coordinator for Sunshine Supper, the weekly community meal open to all residents of Sun Prairie.
How Families can Help
Chad and Alison shared these ways your family can help another family in need.
- Please accept the challenge, and like their family, and consider a donation of $5 per family member. Share your family’s photo on the Sunshine Supper Facebook page to show your support.
- Mail your check to Sunshine Place, 18 Rickel Road, Sun Prairie, WI 53590. Please write “Challenge” in the notes section of the check made out to Sunshine Place.
- Purchase a “door” at your favorite local retail outlet for $5.00, write your family’s name on it and hang it up at the business or in a window at your home in support of the challenge.
- Pass up a coffee shop drink one day this week, or take your lunch one day and donate the savings to Sunshine Place. Or ask your kids to pool some of their change to make dollar donations.
“We hope to use the $5 Family Challenge to start to teach our kids about helping others who don’t share the same opportunities they enjoy,” said Alison. “Additionally, as a mom of three young kids, I know that it’s not easy to raise a family even with fortunate circumstances. It is why we are supporting Sunshine Place and the services it provides to help other mom’s and families in need.”
To make a donation online by credit card or e-check, please click on the Donate Now button.
The Bed Lady delivers for kids sleeping on the floor
Just about four years ago, the Sun Prairie School Board decided to change the elementary school boundaries. This meant that our kindergarten-aged daughter would be leaving Bird School and attending Westside for first grade.
During all the School Board meetings leading up to the boundary change, teachers and staff from Westside talked about all the needs they had at their school, but we never really learned what those specific needs were. Understanding that if we were going to be a positive part of the changes the School Board was hoping to see, we needed to know what those needs were. I spoke with Westside Principal Rick Mueller shortly after the new school year started to see how families in our neighborhood could address the needs, so he sent me to see School Social Worker, Mandy Harvey.
I will never forget my first meeting with “Miss Mandy”, as the kids lovingly call her. After briefly explaining that I wanted to help with the “needs” that the school had, Mandy sat back in her chair and said, “I have kids sleeping in cars, I have kids who haven’t eaten since they left school yesterday, I have kids who don’t know where their backpack is because they don’t know whose couch their family slept on last night, and I have kids sleeping in their clothes on the floor because the family literally has nothing. School is the least of the worries for these kids. How do you want to help?”
I honestly had to sit there a minute just to absorb what she had just shared. I knew that Westside had a very high number of children on “free and reduced lunch”, the district’s measure of poverty. I knew there were children at Westside that were considered “at risk”. I knew that there were kids at Westside that dealt with drugs, alcohol, gangs, and worse in their homes. But I was truly shocked to learn that there were kids at Westside that were homeless, hungry and living in unbearable conditions.
The one thing that stuck out to me-- kids sleeping on the floor. I wasn’t sure how I could help the kids that were homeless, but I could help the ones that were sleeping on the floor. I told Miss Mandy that I could send out an email to the parents in our neighborhood asking for very gently used mattresses, box springs, sheets and blankets. I felt that by getting the kids up off the floor they would get a better night’s sleep, which would help them feel better, which would help them do better in school, which would help them do good things in our community, which would help make them more confident in themselves, which would help them throughout their entire lives……but it all started with a bed. At that time, there were eight families at Westside School that Mandy knew were sleeping on the floor.
It was pretty easy to collect those first several beds and all the bedding to go with them. I was even able to find a couple of really nice couches. Mandy and I went to deliver the first set of beds to a single mom with three small children, the oldest of which was in kindergarten at Westside. As we carried the first mattress through the door, two mice ran right in front of my feet. Inside, there were broken smoke detectors hanging from wires, flickering light bulbs, and filthy dirty hallways. Mandy looked at me over the mattress and said, “Don’t you dare start crying! Wait until we’re back in the car.” I swallowed hard, and we went into the apartment.
All three children were thrilled to see the beds! Never in my life had I seen children excited about sheets and blankets! There was no furniture in that apartment. Nothing. I had grabbed a few groceries to bring with me, and as we were talking to the mom, the littlest boy came and took my hand and asked if those were pretzels in the bag I had brought. I nodded and he said, “Pretzels are my favorite, and I’m awfully hungry.” We ripped open that bag and all three kids attacked it….it was clear they hadn’t eaten much, if anything, that day.
I was hooked. I recruited a neighbor and frequent volunteer at Westside, David Ianne, to help me deliver the beds and furniture since Mandy had duties at school to attend to. We quickly delivered beds and furniture to those first eight families. Almost as quickly, Mandy had helped to find housing for a few families that had been homeless, and they were going to need furniture and bedding also. Before long, I was receiving requests from all of the elementary schools in Sun Prairie, Patrick Marsh, Joining Forces for Families and The Colonial Club Senior Center.
David and I have walked into some very interesting situations, carrying beds and furniture into some of the most disturbing apartment and housing areas in our community. Musty, bugs, dirt, grime, smelly, mold, broken, dark, unkempt, old, fear, apathy and sadness….you can sense it all when you walk in the common entry ways. David, a Madison firefighter, is not a stranger to these conditions as he sees it often through his job. He has had to “talk me down” many times as we have left particularly sad situations. You just have to wonder how people can survive, much less flourish, living in those conditions!
As we went about trying to find enough gently used beds to fill the requests, we were learning about the processes these families go through when they reach out for community services. We found that it is actually illegal for service organizations to provide used beds for their clients, or to accept beds as donations. Saint Vincent’s can provide a small inflatable “mattress” for people, but they are thin, don’t last very long and look more like something you would float on in the pool than something that would provide a good night’s sleep. Saint Vincent’s will provide used furniture, but the waiting list is long, and they are limited with trucks, so delivery can take weeks, if not months.
So we fine-tuned our system a bit to accept gently used couches, toddler beds, dressers, kitchen tables and chairs. We stored our donations in the lower level of my husband’s State Farm Insurance office until we found a home for them. It’s amazing how the process began to unfold….somebody would donate a twin mattress, and within the next few days someone would call with a twin box spring or a frame to give us a complete set. Sheets and blankets began to roll in, and if we got low on anything, a simple email would immediately bring in more. Mattresses were a bit harder to come by, but we could usually come up with a workable solution for each request eventually. I only wish I had kept a running tally of how many families we have been able to help over the last 3 ½ years…..being conservative, the number has to be well over 100 at this point.
I have met so many wonderful people doing this. The people who have donated furniture and bedding have been so generous, concerned and kind. But, the families receiving the furniture have been, for the most part, amazing. Many will share the stories of how they have gotten to this point in their lives as we assemble their beds. Many have gone through horrific struggles and have left life as they knew it to protect themselves and their children. Some are working to overcome addictions and need a new start. Some are dealing with a sick child or family member and the medical bills have financially ruined them. Some have made really bad choices and are now dealing with the consequences. Some are black, some are white, some are Asian, some are Hispanic, some are young, some are elderly…..but they have all needed a little help at this point in their lives and it’s truly an honor to be able to help someone in that situation. I think I am often getting more out of providing beds to these people than they are in receiving them.
But, this problem is growing in Sun Prairie. More and more families are in need of help, and honestly it’s becoming more than a small volunteer effort can sustain. I was recently introduced to the wonderful people at Sunshine Connections….and it couldn’t have come at a better time! Feeling overwhelmed by all of the requests for beds and furniture, keeping up with a job, three kids and my own family obligations, I was ready to give it up. Meeting Angela Ackley and hearing about how Sunshine Connections works within Sunshine Place was an answer to my prayers. As we strive to figure out how best to help those in need, it is becoming clear that we are on the verge of something really exciting.
As these needs have grown exponentially, I have come to realize that a larger volunteer base is necessary in order to meet these growing needs. Sunshine Connections seems to be the logical answer to catalyze a greater effort in this regard. With these growing pains, we have also outgrown our current storage capacity, so we need to look into larger storage facilities to house the donations as we organize our distribution efforts. I’m not sure what the answer is right now, but I am hopeful that the Sun Prairie community will help us figure it out so that we can continue to help those in need.
Aka “The bed lady”